We’ve hit up higher-ups in Canada's cannabis industry for their street-level advice on the best pot strains, edibles and drinks on the market
I met up with an old bud from high school the other day. It was totally by chance. A pandemic coincidence. We got to talkin’ – and smokin.’ He offered me some from his special stash. He’s old school. He makes a monthly trek to the “Green Mile” on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory for his supply. Sometimes he scores from a known “associate” with a certain motorcycle club. He’s still street when it comes to scoring. Legal stuff, not so much: too expensive, not consistent enough product, etc. He has connections that will concoct some shatter or hash.
It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Legal cannabis sales in Ontario were supposed to push out illicit sales. But they still only account for just about 25 per cent of the total market share. That number pales in comparison to 50 per cent of the market share in other provinces. Blame Doug Ford. Leave it to a former hash dealer to bungle the bud roll out. First there was the banning of bricks-and-mortar stores during the first six months of legalization. Then the shady lottery for retail licences. And finally the broken promises to allow cannabis lounges and restaurants.
We’re still waiting (mostly) for Cannabis 2.0 to kick in. That was the spliffy marketing name given to last December’s second wave of cannabis products. Cannabis 2.0 promised to boldly go where marijuana has never gone before. It never quite materialized.
“The introduction of Cannabis 2.0 products into the market in the last quarter of 2019 was characterized by the predictable challenges of new product launches,” is how Ontario Cannabis Store CCO Cheri Mara puts it in her recently-released quarterly report for 2020-2021.
But there are growing signs that the legal market is finding its sweet spot.
Yeah, the stock market still sucks for the big players after the brutal bloodletting that led to thousands of layoffs. The market is weeding out the pretenders. By this time next year we should be in an even better place.
Sales of flower are way up during the pandemic, solidifying the idea weed will be consumed no matter the economic situation. Prices are more competitive – the average per gram price of dried flower in Ontario is now slightly lower than what’s available in the grey market. Larger 28-gram offerings have proved particularly popular. Overall, we are seeing more genetic diversity among products offered by the large players.
Supply chain issues are sorting themselves out as well, although some product is still making it to market past its best-before date. Opening up retail store licensing in Ontario – the number of retail store locations operating in the province has more than doubled over the last year, from 53 to 110 – has had the desired effect of improving access.
It can still get pretty dry in smaller centres outside the GTA. But sellers are also understanding what consumers want, from the newer heads who prefer to grab and go and dabble in edibles and beverages, to old school potheads who gravitate towards strains and concentrates. Seeds are also beginning to find fertile ground.
Clear favourites are beginning to emerge in the marijuana marketplace. Cannabis 2.0 is (mostly) here. It just took a little longer than expected.
To mark the occasion of the second anniversary of legalization in Canada, we’ve searched high (and low) and picked the brains of some notables in the industry to offer up street-level advice on their fave – and greenest – producers of strains, edibles and beverages. Here are their picks.
Medpot has been lost in the legalization rush even though it’s medical weed that planted the seeds for legalization. So it’s a logical place to start when it comes to acknowledging those changing up the legalization landscape. Alberta-based medpot producer BOAZ is among those keeping it real. All their flower is fair trade. There are no pesticides or machines used in the production process. Among its roster of reefer, Green Kraken has taken up legendary status. Notable: its genetic profile for reducing inflammation and improving memory.
Among the giant LPs, Aurora has been among the hardest hit by contraction in the industry.
But this award-winning sativa known for its high THC content and dense green and purple buds is a bright spot – even if the nostalgic ad campaign behind it feels gimmicky. (San Rafael ’71 takes its name from the mythical place in northern California where 420 was born.) If you can walk the walk….
Just before the pandemic hit hard in March, CEO Alison Gordon made a graceful exit from the company she started three years ago. But she has left a respected legacy. 48North is known for its topicals (see its partnership with industry giant Apothecanna) but was among the first companies to embrace outdoor growing. It has also developed a reputation for its unique genetics. This spicy indica-dominant strain comes up often on the best-of lists of cannabis insiders. It’s also a knockout among those looking to relieve stress and insomnia. Flavours: sweet, fruity.
Pure Sunfarms has been a fixture in BC’s Fraser Valley for more than two decades. No, they haven’t been growing weed all that time. Before legalization, they were better known as producers of some of the best tomatoes, peppers and hops in the province.
But Sunfarms has been seeding a new chapter since legalization, putting its greenhouses on the sun-kissed coast to work producing among the most noted indica, sativa and hybrid cannabis varieties in the country.
Its one-ounce blends, which retail for $104, are a hit. But its Pink Kush takes the cake. Distinguishing features: aroma; relative of fabled flower OG Kush.
This Bracebridge, Ontario-based grower takes small-batch cannabis seriously: its crops are grown in small rooms, some no more than 2,000 square-feet.
The company operates by the credo that every plant is given the care it deserves “no matter how long it takes.” Which is why you’ll rarely find more than two strains on offer from this company. This year’s crops – Glueberry OG and The Edge – are a fave among discerning retailers.
The company also scores points on the environmental sustainability front with its hemp apparel line and use of recyclable “tin can” packaging.
The Nova Scotia-based operation founded by master grower (and medpot user) Andrew Robinson is making a name for cannabis on the East Coast. The company started locally but has been growing a national name for itself with its expansion into retail stores in Ontario in July. That move coincided with the release of four new strains. The high-potency Lemon Garlic OG sativa-dominant hybrid has received high praise for its long genetic line, bright green buds and fast-acting smoke.
There can be no true legalization without the right to grow your own stone. And Canadians are getting back to the land and setting their soul free by embracing cannabis cultivation in a big way.
This California-based collective of growers is known for breeding some of the best medpot strains on the planet. Their OG Kush and Lost Coast OG seeds “are the best ever.” That’s coming from one industry head who wrote the book on bud.
If your tastes gravitate to Canadian brands, there’s Jordan of the Islands, which has been developing genetics for more than 25 years on (you guessed it) Vancouver Island. A new line has just been released.
Other notables: Ripper Seeds’ Badazz; Sensi Seeds’ Dutch varieties (Black Domina). The Ontario Cannabis Store has a limited variety for sale. Of those, Muskoka Kush by Edmonton-based 34 Street Seed Co. looks the most interesting.
Cannabis concentrates and extracts have historically been the purview of seasoned stoners looking to take their high to notches unknown to humankind. Concentrates and extracts typically contain up to 80 per cent THC. Products are beginning to find their way onto the legal market.
But what selection is available is limited and pricey. We’re talking $80 for four grams.
Among those, Hagersville, Ontario-based Greybeard Cannabis Company is developing a reputation for being a cut above. As the company’s name suggests, it’s into doing things slowly. It grows its plants outdoors and has had great success, raising some of the highest THC cannabis on the market.
Their secret to powerful concentrates? Their plants are frozen after harvest to lock in potency before they are used for extracts.
For those who can’t roll their own smoke – or can’t be bothered – pre-rolled joints are a convenient way to go for both price and THC content.
Aurora, Solei, Liiv and Redecan are the most popular brands sold by the Ontario Cannabis Store. Good Supply warrants honourable mention here.
But it’s FLOWR’s BC Pink Kush grown in the Okanagan with up to 25 per cent THC that gets the nod from industry potheads. Other notables on the market: Redecan’s Cold Creek Kush pre-rolls.
Things are looking up for the Leamington, Ontario-based medpot producer Aphria. The company recently announced its first foray into the German market. And its quarterly earnings report, released last week, shows it’s making impressive gains in the Canadian cannabis market. The company, which announced a supply agreement with Israel-based medpot producer Canndoc in August, is hitting the mark with casual smokers with its half-ounce and one-ounce bags of B!NGO indica and sativa brands. If size is everything then this high in THC and low in price offering is for you.
This London, Ontario-based LP saw the light quicker than most (see also Bhang milk chocolate below) and turned its attention to edibles from almost the get-go. The move has paid off in a big way.
The company announced a deal this week to distribute its edibles through Shoppers. It helps to have one of the best master growers in the bud business – and a commitment to local.
Indiva’s Legend brand of milk chocolate edibles is homegrown – part of a partnership with fourth-generation master chocolatier Bernard Callebaut out of Calgary – and made with fair trade and organic ingredients. Word on the street is that two new flavours are launching for Halloween – orange dark chocolate and raspberry milk. Can candy cane in time for the holidaze be far behind?
Brought to you by the folks who think edibles should be fun, it’s definitely tailored to younger consumers who like the no muss, no fuss grab-and-go cannabis experience. The packaging advises consumers “not to try and think of capybaras when consuming, but to watch clouds. It’s all about balance.” Indeed.
This New Brunswick-based LP has made disrupting the industry – and not always in a good way – its brand. It’s still embroiled in a class action from 2016 alleging a batch of cannabis tainted with pesticides got people sick. But it seems to have turned over a new leaf, signing a deal with Israel’s largest medpot supplier and putting its knowledge of cannabis oils and extracts into big investments in its edibles production line. These dark truffles fit nicely to melt in your mouth. Also, perfect for staying in and watching a movie, our friends tell us.
These sweets dedicated “to making the fairly enjoyable ridiculously fun,” are made with 48 per cent cocoa to deliver “cannabis-free taste.” At less than $5 a pop, they also deliver bang for the buck.
They come in 10-milligram hits of CBD or THC, depending on what you’re fixing to accomplish. If it’s relaxation you’re looking for, then it’s the former you want. If you want to get a little high before setting off for la-la-land, then it’s the latter.
The knock against edibles is that the federally mandated 10 milligram maximum per dose is not enough of a hit – depending on your weight and tolerance level.
Aurora has turned that equation on its head with these 2.5-milligram doses. The idea is not to get too stoned. It’s to drift….
Celebrity cannabis brands have been all the rage since legalization. But the rush to cash in on star power was more about buzz than quality product. BC-born Seth Rogen is an exception. Most potheads know Rogen as the star of the 2008 stoner film Pineapple Express. But he has the bud bona fides.
He was active in anti-prohibition and get-out-the-vote efforts among young people in the U.S. before marijuana was mainstream. He’s also got some marketing smarts. His Houseplant strain, launched with Canopy Growth, played to mostly positive reviews.
Rogen is getting his feet wet again, this time with cannabis-infused beverages. His grapefruit sparkling water is a refreshing addition to an otherwise still pretty bland (it must be said) field. It tastes pretty good, too.
Cannabis teas are one of the best ways to enjoy your bud. It’s been a familiar – and easy – way to imbibe for those looking for more of a body stone. But they’ve mostly gotten lost in the Cannabis 2.0 marketing drive. Still, there are some notable players. Toronto-based Everie is the biggest – it’s cornered the market with more than half the Ontario Cannabis Store’s sales in beverages.
Haven St. is known for its premium cannabis. But it’s also a big player in the beverages sector. It’s No. 150 Peace Tea and No. 550 Rise Tea have found their niche. (Both are currently on sale at the Ontario Cannabis Store.) TerrAscend, its Mississauga-based partner in the venture, recently announced a major expansion of company grow facilities in California.
Taste – and smell – are complaints you often hear when it comes to cannabis-infused drinks. It’s not so bad if you think about them as energy drinks as opposed to something you knock down when you’re thirsty or want to relax. But Green Organic Dutchman has the solution – mix your own. Our friends at the Friendly Stranger tell us the company’s dissolvable THC powder is “hands down the best.”
It’s coming soon – that’s all we can tell you right now, and that it’s going to be good. It comes in glass bottles, has no sugar and the companies have partnered with Tree Canada to be carbon neutral.